The iPhone 4S Assistant: Artificial Intelligence for the masses?

The iPhone 4S Assistant: Artificial Intelligence for the masses?

After all the hoopla and mostly-unjustified disappointment over Apple’s release of the new iPhone 4S – instead of the highly anticipated and mythical iPhone 5 – tech journalists are beginning to dissect the most whimsical moment of the Apple product announcement and conference. When the iPhone 4S was introduced by Apple executive Phil Schiller, the media crowd assembled at the company’s Town Hall auditorium in Cupertino was less than enthusiastic in its applause. But then Schiller ceded the stage to Scott Forstall, a senior VP at Apple, who started talking to his iPhone 4S, and it responded accordingly. As the attendees watched and listened to Forstall seemingly carrying on a conversation with his iPhone, the specter of being let down by the lack of iPhone 5 quickly dissipated.

When Scott Forstall asked the new iPhone 4S “Do I need a raincoat today?”, the smartphone confidently replied in a slightly robotic but clear female voice: “It sure looks like rain today.”

Talking on a smartphone is one thing, but talking TO a smartphone and receiving a highly logical and coherent answer is something different. When the iPhone 4S hits stores on October 14, it will ship with Siri, a cool new artificial intelligence (AI) feature demonstrated during Apple’s product announcement. Siri isn’t exactly new; it was once available from iTunes App Store, and it allowed users to ask questions in natural, everyday language. Initially Siri could mostly handle giving information about restaurants and movie theaters. The questions posed to Siri were routed through a network in which they were analyzed for improving the app’s AI.

While some Siri users were excited about the app’s potential, others thought Siri was just a fancy version of GOOG-411, or the way-ahead of its time Portico service from General Magic. But now Siri has matured into Assistant, perhaps the most serious AI project undertaken by Apple in recent years. The voice-controlled Assistant can do a lot more than just look up what’s playing at the local movie theater. Apple’s mobile Assistant will allow iPhone 4S users to control many iOS functions with their voices. From opening apps to composing messages, and from searching the web to setting appointments; the iPhone 4S will only scratch the surface of what Apple has in store in terms of AI development.

In the hands of millions of users, Apple’s mobile Assistant will become a more efficient and knowledgeable AI because it has the capacity to constantly learn. Voice-controlled devices are practically a dime a dozen these days, but they aren’t widely used. The Opera Internet browser, for example, can be controlled by voice. Voice-activated dialing is a feature present in even the most basic Nokia cell phones. Android-powered cell phones already feature a fair amount of voice-control. What was lacking from voice control, until now, was the AI implementation. Now that Apple is bringing AI to the masses with its mobile Assistant for the iPhone 4S, advanced technologies such as speech recognition and smart automation will no longer be confined to the realm of science fiction.

Harold Fanny writes for many blogs on topics related to health, finance, entertainment and technology. He has recently written a guest post on the topic of car insurance and online quote comparison services such as Kanetix.

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